A dream night for Lukas Tipton and Polk County no doubt felt like a nightmare for East Wilkes.
Bounces and bobbles kept falling the Wolverines’ way Friday night – and Polk kept taking advantage of every break. The Wolverines turned two early East Wilkes fumbles into a 21-0 first-quarter lead en route to a 41-21 victory over the Cardinals in G.M. Tennant Stadium in the first round of the state 1AA playoffs.
The Wolverines (9-4), reaching nine wins for the first time since 2014, will travel next week to face Western Highlands Conference foe Mitchell in the second round. The Mountaineers, seeded second in the 1AA West bracket, defeated No. 7 Polk County 33-0 earlier this season.
It may well have been the final home game for Polk County’s seniors, and many of those Wolverines seemed not to want to leave the field, lingering for photos, family hugs and smiles while savoring a third straight season with a first-round playoff win.
“It means everything. It’s everything I’ve ever dreamed of,” Tipton said. “Before the game we were quiet and locked in, focused on our assignnments, what we’re supposed to do and who were supposed to block.
“Again, it’s just a dream come true.”
Tipton scored on a 3-yard run on Polk County’s opening drive and things got no better for East Wilkes (5-7). The Cardinals fumbled on their first two possessions and Polk converted both into points, as they later did with two more East turnovers.
The first miscue, a fumble at the Polk 39 recovered by Jordan Bishop, led to Angus Weaver’s 22-yard touchdown scamper. The second, recovered by Evan Miller at the Cardinal 43, produced Tipton’s 12-yard scoring with with 3:49 still left in the first quarter that gave the Wolverines a 21-0 edge.
“We took advantage of some of their errors,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis. “They laid the ball on the ground after a couple of first downs and we capitalized on their mistakes. I think that put them behind the eight ball a little bit and it gave our team a lot of confidence.”
East Wilkes finally broke through early in the second period, and might well have gotten even closer had it not been for two bounces later in the quarter that instead put Polk County firmly in control of the game.
After Caden Howell’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Bryson Sidden with 9:42 left in the second quarter cut Polk’s lead to 21-7, the Cardinals forced a Wolverine punt and took possession at the Polk 48. Facing a fourth-and-8 at the 46, Howell found an open receiver just behind Polk’s secondary, but the ball was dropped, giving the Wolverines possession.
A 41-yard pass from Bryce Jergenson to Nate Henderson moved the Wolverines to the 8, where they gave the ball to Angus Weaver on first down. The freshman hasn’t fumbled all season, but had the ball pried from his grasp at the 5. Polk tackle Jared Searcy, though, pounced on the ball, and the Wolverines scored on the next play on Henderson’s 5-yard sweep with 2:19 remaining in the half, giving Polk a 27-7 lead that stood at the break.
Another East Wilkes fumble late in the third period, this one recovered by Chase McSwain, gave the Wolverines the ball at the East Wilkes 23. Polk scored in four plays, overcoming two holding penalties, as Weaver powered into the end zone from the 5 on the first play of the fourth quarter. A Tyler Staley interception near midfield on East’s next drive returned the ball to Polk for a final scoring drive, this one ending with Gage McSwain’s 26-yard dash with 8:05 left.
East Wilkes added a pair of scores in the closing minutes for the final margin.
Polk County piled up 462 total yards of offense, with Jergenson throwing for 120 yards on 5-of-7 attempts. McSwain finished with 97 yards on eight carries, Weaver had 94 yards on 10 rushes and Tipton had 81 yards on eight as Polk picked up 342 yards on the ground. Howell finished 11-of-29 for 161 yards while Garrett Vernon rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns, including a 62-yard jaunt with 1:18 remaining.
“We really wanted to reestablish our ground game tonight, and I feel like we did,” Ollis said. “Our fullbacks really, really played well. We got Gage back involved some. He hasn’t been involved as much over the last half of the season as I thought he was tonight.
“I think I gave the shortest pregame speech of my career, and it consisted of play hard, win and advance. I said it’s a pretty simple procedure, men, and that’s what the playoffs are all about. We’re moving on to the next round and we’re excited about that.”
East Wilkes 0 7 0 14 – 21
Polk County 21 6 0 14 – 41
PC – Lukas Tipton 3 run (kick blocked)
PC – Angus Weaver 22 run (Weaver pass from Bryce Jergenson)
PC – Tipton 12 run (Matias Akers kick)
EW – Bryson Sidden 16 pass from Caden Howell (Jorge Lopez kick)
PC – Nate Henderson 5 run (kick blocked)
PC- Weaver 5 run (Akers kick)
PC – Gage McSwain 26 run (Akers kick)
EW – Garrett Vernon 10 run (run failed)
EW – Vernon 62 run (Dalton Hamby run)
EW – Garrett Vernon 10-101, Brayson Church 12-53, Caden Howell 11-42. PC – Gage McSwain 8-97, Angus Weaver 10-94, Lukas Tipton 8-81, Nate Henderson 5-30, Jordan Bishop 2-23, Mackus Simpson 3-19, Casey Beiler 1-6, Elijah Barnes 1-4, Cameron Blackwell 1-2, Bryce Jergenson, 3-(-1), Wyatt Deyton 1-(-13).
EW – Caden Howell 11-29-161-1. PC – Bryce Jergenson 5-7-120-0.
EW – Trey Lambert 6-65, Garrett Vernon 2-56, Brayson Church 2-24, Bryson Sidden 1-16, . PC – Chase McSwain 2-51, Nate Henderson 1-41, Jordan Bishop 1-26, Gage McSwain 1-2.